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Tragic dilemma

Saturday, 21st May, 2011

By Craig Brealey

 On Monday, Brian Sellick and another man were to have become the first locals to be sent away from the hospital to Wilcannia because there was no room for them here. 

Mr Sellick was admitted about four weeks ago to be treated for an illness and, his family says, he also has dementia although the hospital disputes this.

They said the hospital told them it needed his bed for other patients and that he would be looked after at the Wilcannia aged care service.

The hospital is nearly always full and it has sent aged care patients to Wentworth lately to free up beds for medical patients.

Hospital chief executive Stuart Riley said yesterday there were eight beds available in Wilcannia and there would soon be more aged care places in Balranald.

But Mr Sellick’s family said he had no family or friends in Wilcannia and it was the short notice of his departure that upset them as well.

Brian’s brother, Trevor, said the hospital called him on Wednesday asking him to come to a meeting that afternoon. He said he was told at that meeting that his brother would be taken to Wilcannia on Monday.

“I said ‘No way, I do not want him going to Wilcannia. He doesn’t know anyone there and we can’t get there to visit him.’

“I have the power of attorney and I am his guardian but it didn’t matter what I said, they were still going to move him to Wilcannia.”

Trevor said he was told that his brother was being moved because he was not sick anymore, that he was only receiving nursing home-type care and the hospital needed the bed.

Brian was to be taken in a car with another elderly man who also had dementia on the 250 kilometre trip. They were to be accompanied by a nurse, Trevor said.

“They said ‘pack a suitcase with his clothes, shoes, photos. If he has a favourite blanket or rug, put that in too.’

“It all came out of the blue; they were moving him to Wilcannia, regardless.”

Trevor later called his nephew, Robin Sellick, and they went to the hospital together for another meeting. 

Robin said he appreciated that hospital’s management had a tough job but that he was disturbed by their way of dealing with such a sensitive matter.

“I know (they) are running a big organisation but how would you feel if someone in your family needed aged care and you got a phone call on Wednesday and you’re told ‘We’re moving them to Wilcannia on Monday’ and it doesn’t matter what you say. Wouldn’t you want two or three weeks’ notice?”

Robin said he was told that one of the reasons his uncle had to be moved was that “they almost had to cancel elective surgery the other day.”

The hospital eventually agreed to give the family one more week to try and find him a place in Adelaide where Brian has relatives.

Yesterday Robin and Trevor attended a meeting with State MP John Williams to see what he could do.

Robin said Mr Williams admitted that it was a big problem and that people had been coming to see him regularly about it for a long time.

Eighteen months ago Mr Williams called a meeting of families, nursing homes and other stakeholders in order to get the facts and figures needed to attempt to find a solution. But nothing appeared to have come of it, Robin said .

“Clearly this is a serious problem but everyone is throwing their hands in the air and saying ‘This is too hard!’ he said.

He said the city’s old folk were being treated like “sheep and cattle.”

“There’s too many in this paddock, we’ll shift them to that paddock.

“John Williams said it had been a problem here for 20 years and yet still there is no solution. How many more years before we have a solution? will it be another 20 years?

“Is that acceptable to you or your family? Is it acceptable to the community?”

Designing a solution would take money and effort, Robin said, and that work should have started years ago.

Brian Sellick turned 80 on Good Friday. He had worked as a shift boss on the North Mine, played grade football and, after he retired from work, did volunteer work for Lifeline.

“He was always very active and was always helping people in his retirement,” said Trevor.

He said that although his brother had dementia he had not lost all of his wits and still welcomed a visit from family.

“I visit him every day in hospital, sometimes twice a day... 

“I tried to break it to him about getting moved to Wilcannia and he said ‘I knew something was going on. People have been hanging around.’”

“He doesn’t know anyone in Wilcannia. I work and I can’t get to visit and nor can the family.

“It’s cruel and it’s so wrong.”

Mr Riley said he understood the anguish that such a decision caused but that the hospital was in an almost impossible position.

“The difficulty is, this is an acute care hospital and is it appropriate to keep people long-term who are not acutely ill?” 

Typically, such infirm patients would waste away, get sick, fall over and hurt themselves because the hospital was not set up to provide care for the aged.

“The other issue is we have 19 people waiting for placement. We have 80 beds, so 25 per cent are effectively people waiting for placement.”

It was also not just about the number of beds, Mr Riley said; more beds meant more staff to provide the proper care.

He said the hospital regretted the short notice given to Mr Sellick’s family but that his bed and others were required for surgery patients.

“There were seven people waiting for orthopaedic surgery. If we had no beds we would have had to cancel theatre.”

It was difficult for families, Mr Riley said, but it was just as hard on other families who might have had a loved one booked in for a hip replacement, for example, being told that it could not go ahead because there was no bed for them afterwards. 

Patients could be sent to Adelaide for surgery, he said, but when they were well enough they were sent back to Broken Hill and then they had to be accommodated at the hospital.

The aged care places in Wilcannia, Wentworth and Balranald are funded by the Commonwealth Government and are within the far west health district.

Mr Riley said they were all of a very high standard. The one in Wilcannia was situated by the Darling River and had good views and very nice rooms, he said.


IN BETTER DAYS: Brian Sellick is now in hospital and his family does not want him moved to an aged care home in Wilcannia. PICTURE: Submitted  


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